“You’re doing it wrong!”
I always hate criticism, but I really hate being told I am doing things wrong when I know I am doing them right. When patients come in and try to “educate” me on why I should give them antibiotics for a cold or why vaccines are harmful the conversations seldom end well. I am an imperfect person who occasionally makes mistakes and some questions are appropriate, but I have a hard time when people do not appreciate who I am and what I know.
It is one thing to challenge an experienced physician about how he practices medicine. It is a different thing altogether to challenge God about how He does religion. As foolish as this may seem, it is something Jesus experienced all of the time.
This week in our men’s study of Matthew 9 we reviewed the passage where the disciples of John the Baptist approached Jesus with the question, “How come your disciples don’t fast like we and the Pharisees do?” Implicit in their question was that they thought Jesus’ disciples should have been fasting and were less spiritual because they didn’t, and that as their teacher, Jesus should address the problem.
Jesus answer was interesting. Using the analogy of a wedding celebration, he said, “Can wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matthew 9:15 ESV
In our study we paraphrased his response by saying, “If the purpose of fasting is to spiritually focus and draw near to God, why would you fast when God Incarnate was with you?”
In Jesus’ response, and in the verses that followed, Jesus made it clear that the old ways of religious thinking and acting were inadequate, and that things were different in the kingdom He was bringing. Jesus told a culture that celebrated external religiosity that their old ways and habits needed to be reexamined.
Lest there be any doubt, Jesus followed his words by acting in a way that was new and strange to them. He was approached by a religious leader whose daughter had just died. The grief-stricken man pleaded with the Savior, “Come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
The presumptuous request of the man would not have been lost on the audience. He was asking Jesus to touch his dead daughter. Touching a dead body would render a person spiritually unclean and barred from temple worship for 7 days. Religious teachers of that day would never do this. Being clean was too important.
Jesus was not like the other religious teachers. His actions revealed a different set of priorities, Matthew wrote that “Jesus rose and followed him, with His disciples.” Spiritual cleanness, shallow skin deep righteous, mattered little compared to the life of the girl and the love of her father. Jesus immediately went to see the child. (And ultimately healed her and brought her back to life.)
Jesus willingness to be considered “unclean” in service to others was further demonstrated as he traveled to see the dead child. As he walked along a woman with a “discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the hem of his garment” believing that even this small touch of Jesus would be sufficient to heal.
As dramatic as it was for Jesus to be willing to go to the dead child, the woman’s actions similarly defied cultural explanation. Jesus’ decision to touch the child would be His, the resultant uncleanness His to bear, a consequence of his personal choice. The woman, ceremonially unclean and separated from others, had no right to render another unclean by her touch. The duration of uncleanness was shorter than that for touching a dead body (one day instead of seven) but her imposition of uncleanness onto a Rabbi, a religious teacher, was extremely inappropriate. No one would have faulted Jesus if he had taken offense at the woman’s actions. Jesus instead reacted with His characteristic grace. The woman was healed, and Jesus validated her by saying, “Your faith has made you well.”
In his words and responses Jesus demonstrated that serving God is about loving people, not about religious rituals. This lesson is still relevant today. We have a tendency to think we know “how it is done”, to rely on traditions and to judge others based on those traditions. When we do, we are no different than the Pharisees Jesus so often corrected.